Louisiana news briefs
Lawsuit supporters say more scholars call for veto
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Opponents of a bill that would squelch a levee board’s environmental lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies say they now have more than 70 legal scholars who say the bill also threatens state and local litigation over the 2010 BP lawsuit.
The levee board lawsuit says drilling and dredging by oil, gas and pipeline interests is responsible for much of the erosion of wetlands that protect New Orleans from hurricanes. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the suit and supports the bill to kill it. But he has held off on signing it amid questions from legal experts who say it was so broadly written it could affect lawsuits arising from the BP disaster.
Jindal’s chief lawyer disagrees with that assessment. Jindal has until June 22 to decide whether to veto the measure.
Film tax credit promoter sentenced to 70 months
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Longtime film tax credit promoter Gregory M. Walker has been sentenced in Baton Rouge to nearly six years in federal prison for a $1.83 million wire fraud against 24 victims.
U.S. District Judge James J. Brady on Thursday imposed the prison term of 70 months, ordered Walker to serve an additional three years under post-prison supervision by federal investigators and directed him to repay the $1.83 million.
Walker pleaded guilty last year to one count of wire fraud and admitted that he sold at least $1.4 million in state film tax credits he did not own.
Lafourche justice of the peace suspended
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended a Lafourche Parish justice of the peace for two months without pay for mishandling a claim.
The suspension affects 79-year-old Justice of the Peace Mary Foret, of Raceland. A justice of the peace is a quasi-judicial official who often presides over misdemeanor criminal cases, small claims court proceedings and marriage ceremonies.
The court says Foret violated judicial code and state law by engaging in improper communications and investigations, failing to recuse herself and delegating her judicial duties to her constable, Dwain LeBouef.
In its May 23 ruling, the court wrote, Foret “has engaged in a pattern of serious conduct which harmed the integrity of the judiciary.”
Though Foret has no other ethical violations in her 23 years as a justice of the peace, this was not an isolated decision, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Foret had “made a practice of independently obtaining police reports” in 90 percent of her cases and often allowed LeBouef to question witnesses in criminal hearings.
“A justice of the peace as experienced as (Foret) should be well aware of the need to maintain public respect and confidence in an impartial judiciary,” the commission wrote.
2 Texans accused of tractor thefts appear in court
LAFAYETTE (AP) — Prosecutors say two men who stole tractors in Texas and sold them in Louisiana appeared before a federal judge in Lafayette, who accepted the guilty plea of one defendant and sentenced the other to prison.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik sentenced 48-year-old Vincent L. Simmons, of Porter, Texas, on Thursday to 2½ years in prison for his part in the scheme.
Carey Dale Reed, 40, of Conroe, Texas, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of conspiracy. U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley says Haik did not set a sentencing date for Reed.
Finley says Simmons and Reed conspired to steal a John Deere mower, a CASE Skidster front-end loader and a Kubota KX 61 mini-excavator. She says they were sold to Calcasieu Parish couple, who were part of the scheme.
3 arrested in Natchitoches human trafficking case
NATCHITOCHES (AP) — Authorities say three people have been arrested for allegedly keeping a transgender woman as a slave in the Ajax area of Natchitoches Parish.
Investigators said the victim was held captive, tortured and forced to perform menial tasks and sexual acts.
Natchitoches Parish Sheriff Victor Jones Jr. called it the most “severe and disturbing” case of human trafficking ever investigated in the parish.
The three suspects — 37-year-old David Rodriguez Jr. and 39-year-old Christina Marie Harper, both of Pleasant Hill, and 39-year-old Ambre Tubbs Lomas, of Shreveport — turned themselves in Wednesday and remain in custody at the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center.
The trio faces a number of charges including human trafficking and aggravated second-degree battery.
Jindal agrees to let optometrists perform surgery
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Optometrists, who didn’t go through medical school, now will be allowed to perform a few types of eye surgery.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office announced Thursday that the governor has signed into law the heavily-lobbied bill by Republican Rep. Rogers Pope, of Denham Springs. It takes effect immediately.
Ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors and already could perform the procedures allowed under the bill, opposed the change. They and other critics of the bill said optometrists didn’t have enough training to perform surgery.
Supporters said the expansion will give people greater access to eye care and only involved procedures for which the optometrists will receive additional training.
The bill prohibits optometrists from performing any injections into the eye and from using anesthesia.
State’s Medicaid program
to lose provider
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The state’s Medicaid program is losing one of the private companies providing health insurance under its Bayou Health program, the state’s new insurance-based health care system for the poor.
But it won’t mean any immediate changes to some 200,000 people enrolled in the plan or those providers delivering services.
Community Health Solutions of America is signing over its contract to another Bayou Health provider — Louisiana Healthcare Connections. LHC is a subsidiary of Centene Corp.
According to the Centene Corp., the purchase price will be between $110 million and $140 million.
Calder Lynch, the state Department of Health and Hospitals’ chief of staff, said Thursday the transaction is subject to state and federal health agency approvals.
Once authorization is received, Lynch said those Medicaid recipients enrolled in Community Health Solutions will have an opportunity to choose among the remaining four plans available. There is no automatic transfer to CHS’ successor, he said.
“Any major change has to trigger a special enrollment period,” he said.
The pending transaction would be the first substantial change since the Jindal administration kicked off the program which privatized health care delivery for two-thirds of the state’s 1.2 million Medicaid recipients. The idea is to provide coordinated management of care to improve the health of those enrolled while curbing escalating costs.
It also comes as current contracts are nearing an end and the state is preparing to issue a new request for proposals from insurance companies as early as July.
Bayou Health’s first full fiscal year of implementation came in 2012-13. Companies were selected in July 2011.
Five companies have been providing the insurance coverage. Three of them receive monthly premiums to pay for policies — Louisiana Healthcare Connections, AmeriHealth Mercy of Louisiana and AmeriGroup Louisiana. Two others have operated on a model under which they are paid for services rendered — United Healthcare of Louisiana and Community Health Solutions of America.
Lynch said Louisiana Healthcare Connections-Centene has served notice that as it takes over Community Health’s contract with the state it will move those accounts to an insurance premium model. That would leave United Healthcare of Louisiana the only fee for service based provider.